Hail-damaged corn: What can you do?
Imagine that you’re a week away from corn silage harvest. You have good moisture levels and you’re certain you’ll have a great harvest. However, a hail storm sweeps through your area and now your harvest outlook suddenly looks bleak.
In the May 2018 Forage Foundations, we discussed hail-damaged bags and what you can do to preserve your feed. In this edition, we will cover hail damage while the crop is still in the field and what you can do to salvage the crop.
Hail can drastically decrease the quality of your feed depending on the severity of the storm. Heavy hail can strip the leaves off the corn plant, which can still be fed although it will have a lower yield and will be high in grain and indigestible fiber due to a low stalk-to-leaf ratio. Strong winds can also snap stalks and cover the plants with mud, increasing the ash content and chance of Clostridium issues. In addition, hail can “bruise” the ear or stalk, allowing mold spores the opportunity to infest the plant, resulting in mycotoxin issues.
When it comes to hail-damaged crops, timing and the degree of damage are everything. If the crop suffers severe damage and sits in the field for a prolonged period of time, then the chances of the crop having mold and mycotoxin issues increase. For these reasons, when City Slickers Farm, LLC in Cross Plains, Wisconsin was hit with hail a week before harvest in September 2016, they knew they needed to act quickly.
The first thing they did was contact their nutritionist and agronomist. The storm hit on a Saturday and everybody came out the very next day to assess the damage. Some areas were worse than others, which warranted monitoring throughout the harvest process.
To avoid mold growth, they chose to harvest the week after the storm hit. As the crop was harvested, multiple loads were tested for mycotoxins. Although mycotoxin levels were reasonably low, due to the damage and risk for mycotoxin-producing mold growth, they used Vita Plus Crop-N-Rich® Stage 2 inoculant to drop pH and improve aerobic stability. They also adopted a different packing method to help achieve a better packing density.
Prior to feeding, the silage was tested for mycotoxins again and they found low levels. Some of the poorer material was sold to a steer operation and City Slickers was able to dilute the rest with higher quality feed for their heifers.
The timing worked well in this scenario because the corn could be harvested soon enough to avoid prolonged time in the field and the chance for mold growth. However, it could be a different story depending on the growth stage and severity of damage the hail inflicts. In this situation, it is best to consult your agronomist to find the best path to pursue.
If your corn plots get hit by hail, don’t wait to act. Contact the necessary people immediately and get them out there to assess the situation and evaluate your options. The sooner you can put a plan of action together, the better your chances of having a quality harvest.